The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho is calling on the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office to remove signs posted at polling locations in Madison County, alleging they intimidated college students and may have confused them regarding their right to vote.
Posters hung in a polling place on Election Day in Rexburg near Brigham Young University Idaho warned students not to register to vote in Madison County if they weren’t from there.
The posters, created by the Division of Elections in the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office, advised students that they “should not be registering and voting in your college locale simply because you failed to register and vote at your true domicile” and that “voting is a serious matter which should only be done after proper reflection.”
“The signs posted by Madison County election officials raise serious legal issues regarding voter intimidation directed at one specific group of voters — students,” said Kathy Griesmyer, the Idaho ACLU’s policy director, in a news release Tuesday night.
But Deputy Chief Secretary of State Tim Hurst said the posters were not intended to prevent voting.
“We’re telling people we want them to register and vote, but the law says you need to be a resident of Idaho,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday. “We encourage everyone to vote, but they should do it at the right location.”
He said Madison County was taking the signs down “because we are being told that some people are intimidated by them,” he said.
The Madison County Clerk did not immediately return a request for comment.
Jeremy Woodson, community engagement manager with the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, said the poster should have included information that students who have lived in the election district for at least 30 days can claim residency there and register to vote.
Idaho defines “residence” for voting purpose as the primary domicile where someone intends to make a home.
“I don’t see it as intimidation,” Hurst said. “I see it as an education tool.”
Idaho allows voters who haven’t registered to do so at their polling place on Election Day if they bring a photo ID and proof of residence.
Kristine Anderson, a Rexburg resident, said in a message to The Statesman that she saw the signs at her polling place at about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at her precinct, No. 14, at Central High School. They were posted on the table where poll workers sit, near the registration forms, Anderson said.
The posters include the sentence: “It should be noted that there is no federal right to vote anywhere in the United States for the office of President. State laws control registration and voting and State residency requirements must be met.”
The posters also said, “The advent of Election Day registration in Idaho and how it interacts with the concept of ‘voting resident’ has been a source of controversy in various college towns throughout Idaho.”
In the ACLU news release, Griesmyer said: “We respectfully demand that these signs be removed from all polling locations in Madison County, and across the state, as well as from the Secretary of State’s website under student voter rights on idahovotes.gov. The Secretary of State’s office has a constitutional obligation to ensure free, fair, and impartial elections, and we ask that they do their job and remove any signs of voter intimidation.”
Hurst said the state issued a directive about 12 years ago to counties to display the advisory material for students, and many counties still do.
“Some of the colleges were offering students extra credit if they registered to vote there,” Hurst said.
He said the sign doesn’t tell students they could be eligible to vote if they have lived in Idaho for at least 30 days because “there are other signs that say that” in the polling place. “If they’re there, they know that,” he said.
Lisa Mason, the state election director, noted that some questions on the poster help students determine if they should register to vote in Idaho, such as whether they have registered in another state and whether they keep personal property in Idaho.
Hurst said that he doesn’t know if the Elections Division will continue to direct counties to mount the signs at polling places. “If it is turning people away who should be registering to vote, we’ll change it,” he said.